Workers Health & Safety Centre

Ontario Government Invites Consultation on Changes to Occupational Exposure Regs

Ontario Government Invites Consultation on Changes to Occupational Exposure Regs

The Ministry of Labour (MOL) is seeking feedback on proposed changes to occupational exposure limits (OELs) including a new, “more flexible” process for OEL adoption.  
 
Ontario annually reviews OELs against the most current exposure limits (threshold limit values-TLVs) recommended by the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH). OELs restrict the amount and period of time workers can be exposed to airborne concentrations of harmful biological or chemical agents.
 
Proposed Limit Changes: This year the MOL is proposing to update or eliminate occupational exposure limits (OELs) for 13 hazardous substances. These proposed changes under Regulation 833, include:
 
  • addition of Diethylene glycol monobutyl ether and N,N-Diethylhydroxylamine;
  • revisions to exposure limits or listings for 10 substances currently regulated;
  • withdrawal of the listing and specific exposure limit for aliphatic hydrocarbon gases, alkane [C1–C4], except butane, all isomers.
 
Exposure to these substances would be as per the approach set out in Appendix F of the ACGIH handbook that addresses minimal oxygen content.
 
The deadline to submit feedback on the MOL’s OEL proposals is May 20, 2014.
 
Proposed Process Changes: Additionally, however the MOL is also proposing to change the process for OEL updates. Under the current system when the MOL is confronted by vigorous objections to OEL changes, they can either move ahead on the proposed change or shelf it altogether. For instance, in 2009, the MOL proposed significant reductions to limits for sulphur dioxide plus beryllium and its compounds only to abandon the proposal. Consequently, they are looking for a third option which would allow them to adopt (without further public consultation) a more protective standard then is currently in place, but not as protective as the proposed new ACGIH exposure level.
 
For similar reasons the MOL is also proposing to allow employers a transition period to gain compliance with new OELs for “certain substances”. During this period, employers could rely on personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect workers while engineering controls are being developed and implemented. Existing OEL and Designated Substance regulations require employers to protect workers from exposure without the use of PPE, although both regulations do recognize some exceptional circumstances to this requirement.
 
More Protective Approaches: Many believe Ontario should peg their OELs to the most protective exposure levels possible. To this end the Ontario’s Occupational Cancer Research Centre is recommending lower limits for eight priority carcinogens they have analyzed.
 
Still others insist on a different approach altogether. One of the most substantial developments in this area is European Union legislation entitled, Registration, Evaluation, and Authorisation of Chemicals or REACH. This initiative attempts to remedy the prevailing policy failure allowing tens of thousands of chemicals to be used without adequate knowledge about their environmental or public health effects. Enacted in December 2006, REACH has the potential to trigger cleaner technologies and safer products globally. Already many companies in Europe and North America have started phase-outs of certain high concern chemicals. As of June 1, 2007 chemicals covered by REACH are not allowed to enter the European market without compliance with the regulations.
 
Regardless, many resources are available to help proactive workplaces looking to embrace a more protective approach to hazardous substances. To this end, the University of Massachusetts Lowell’s Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI) has designed as a single access point to the many chemical substitution tools available on the internet.
 
For our part, the WHSC offers a number of training programs and resources to help workplace parties understand their legal duties and responsibilities related to workplace hazards, including harmful chemicals and biological agents. Many of these same programs offer essential insight into the information and tools needed to reduce or eliminate exposure to harmful chemicals.
 
To learn more from the WHSC:
Call:    1-888-869-7950
Visit:   www.whsc.on.ca
Email: contactus@whsc.on.ca
 
To learn more:
The Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers (OHCOW) in association with the Office of the Worker Advisor (OWA) is hosting an “OEL Update” webinar on Friday, May 9, 10 am to noon.  Speakers will include a MOL representative who will explain the process and some of the proposals, an OHCOW representative reviewing the issues OHCOW has been raising with respect to previous OEL update proposals, and a presentation from the Occupational Cancer Research Centre (OCRC) regarding how to reduce occupational cancer rates in Ontario by reducing exposures to carcinogens.  Those interested in participating, please send an e-mail to joudyk@ohcow.on.ca .
 
Additional details from the Ministry of Labour are also available on their website.